BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Leaders of political rivals Taiwan and China meet for the first time in more than 60 years on Saturday for talks that come amid rising anti-Chinese sentiment on the self-ruled democratic island and weeks ahead of elections.
The talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou, the first such meeting since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949, are to be held in the neutral venue of Singapore.
They come ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections on Taiwan which the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is favorite to win, something Beijing is desperate to avoid.
The Nationalists, also known as the Kuomintang (KMT), retreated to Taiwan after losing the civil war to the Communists now in control in Beijing. China has never renounced the use of force to bring what it considers a breakaway province under its control.
However, while trade, investment and tourism have blossomed, particularly since Ma and his KMT took power in 2008, there is deep suspicion on both sides and no progress has been made on any sort of political settlement.
No agreements are expected in a highly symbolic get-together in a luxury hotel in Singapore, a largely ethnic Chinese city-state that has maintained good ties with both for decades.
But the handshake sure to take place comes as Xi hopes to cement his place among China’s pantheon of great leaders and Ma, stepping down next year due to term limits, tries to shape his legacy marred by growing anti-China feeling in Taiwan.
“Compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are anxiously awaiting this meeting and everyone is discussing it without end, pressing the ‘like button’ on the two leaders meeting,” China’s official People’s Daily wrote on Friday.
While China is laudatory, voices of concern have been raised in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s presidential frontrunner in the January elections is from the DPP, which traditionally favors independence from China.
“(Ma) cannot sell out and sacrifice Taiwan’s interests,” said Chao Tien-lin, director of the department of China affairs of the DPP.
“He must meet the expectations of democracy and public opinion in Taiwan. This is what we care most about.”
Ma and Xi meet in the afternoon. Both sides will hold news conferences after a short closed-door meeting, followed by dinner before Ma flies back to Taiwan the same day.
“It will be of huge symbolic importance but will not be a ‘game-changer’, as Taiwanese voters are wary of the mainland’s rising influence over the island”, Yoel Sano, head of political risk with BMI Research, said of the meeting.
Reporting by J.R. Wu and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie